Gov. Walker speaks in BayfieldWisconsin News
-- Wisconsin’s protracted family fight over the budget and public employee unions moved to this Bayfield County town Saturday evening, as embattled Gov. Scott Walker spoke at an invitation-only event and was greeted by at least 2,000 angry protesters outside.
By: John Lundy , Pierce County Herald
WASHBURN — Wisconsin’s protracted family fight over the budget and public employee unions moved to this Bayfield County town Saturday evening, as embattled Gov. Scott Walker spoke at an invitation-only event and was greeted by at least 2,000 angry protesters outside.
Walker arrived in a convoy of six unmarked police cars that pulled up at 5:45 p.m. to the Steak Pit for a Republican Lincoln Day fundraiser. The large, boisterous crowd, which had been lining the streets leading to the restaurant since 4:30, quickly recognized him and erupted in boos and shouts of “Recall Walker.”
The convoy moved through quickly and without incident, and most of the protesters began to follow a circuitous route on public pathways to a spot behind the restaurant where they continued the protest within earshot of the Republican Party faithful inside.
Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka said Saturday evening that he didn’t have a crowd estimate, but various people had estimated the size at between 2,000 and 5,000. So the protest likely at least doubled the size of Washburn, which has a population of 2,271.
Susienka said there had been no incidents and no arrests.
“We wanted to be able to let people say their piece,” Susienka said. “Our primary focus was for the safety of the governor and the congressman.”
He referred to Rep. Sean Duffy, who arrived at the event well before Walker.
People were definitely saying their piece, greeting each vehicle that arrived for the dinner with shouts of “Shame!” while waving protest signs and shaking their fists. One person videotaped the license plates of at least some of the vehicles that entered.
Protesters banged pots, shook tambourines at car windows and sounded horns. Most of the drivers and their passengers stared straight ahead. They had to navigate through a narrow tunnel formed by protesters on both sides, held back by Bayfield County Sheriff's deputies and rally organizers.
Signs included “Gov. Walker, you probably can’t remember me, but ... I can recall you” and “At least my Grandma’s Walker helps her.”
Ron Borchers, a substitute teacher in Washburn, said he was among 24 people who organized the rally, which began Friday afternoon behind Stage North, a community theater and entertainment venue.
Borchers praised Washburn police, whom he said worked closely with the organizers to agree on ground rules.
Scott Griffiths, a freelance artist in Washburn, was also among the organizers.
“The thing that really got me here is the disparity of wealth that has grown way too out of hand,” Griffiths said. “This is not a Wisconsin thing. This is a global pandemic of wealth buying power.”
Richard Bergsrud, 26, of Duluth agreed that it wasn’t just a Wisconsin thing. The way Walker’s proposal to strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights was passed into law was wrong, Bergsrud said.
“It should be a dialogue, not a monologue,” he said.
Bergsrud acknowledged he felt a little bit sorry for people arriving to the event. But he said they were wrong for supporting actions that deprived public employees of long-fought-for rights.
Not everyone who disagreed with the protesters was in the Steak Pit.
Mark Goodrich, a building contractor in Ashland, stood at the corner where protesters passed between Stage North and the entrance to the Steak Pit with a large sign bearing the words, “God Bless Gov. Walker.”
Goodrich said he had heard a few taunts from protesters.
“I know some of the people,” he said. “I have friends on both sides.”
But he added: “Collective bargaining is not a right. It’s never been a right.”
Susienka said about 50 law enforcement officers from agencies throughout Northwestern Wisconsin were involved in efforts to maintain peace. He said they’d known for several weeks that Walker planned to speak at the event but began to ratchet up their efforts when the conflict over Walker’s proposal became apparent.
“The organizers of the protest have been pretty cooperative,” Susienka said.
John Lundy is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune, owned by Forum Communications Company.